The New World Order – 1991 gives way to The New World Disorder – 2013

      The circumstances of revolutionary events brought with the celebration of the new year January 1st, 1991 a sense of a new pragmatism in solving problems.   The concept of a “new world order”, was presented, in which the world, now fundamentally connected by the progressing information revolution, would settle its differences on a rational political, scientific,  and economic basis, shepherded by the two in tune-super powers, the Untied States and the Soviet Union, and with the peaceful assistance of the emerging economic super powers of Germany and Japan.  The progressive collapse of power of the Soviet Union following the dissolution of Soviet dominated eastern Europe and its post World War II Warsaw Pact military arm, however, made the reality on the ground of a U.S. superpower dominant in a multi-polar world.

Like all considerations for an ideal cooperative spirit, there was some tidying up to do.  The U.S. had used the new world order concept to achieve a spectacular alliance comprised of such disparate participants as Syria and Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain, to eject Saddam Hussien’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait. After an unprecedented “smart bomb” air campaign, 100 hours of on the ground power in February was sufficient to get the job done, and the United States looked to link this spectacular triumph at the Madrid Conference to finally achieve a comprehensive world solution to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.

It turned out of course the world was not ready for leaving behind its calamitous martial past for a more cooperative future.   The final dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 left the United States without a state foil, and the many countries reliant on the USSR for support without a “protector” on the world stage.  The result of collapse of a bipolar checks and balances has left the world with twenty years of a new reality, economic instability and bloody local conflicts, and 2013 will likely see the culmination of all that has been wrought in A New World Disorder.

The mistake was likely the idea that the world’s societally under developed nations would accept the concept of ‘Roman citizen’ to the United States as Rome (no matter how understanding this Rome would be).  The two pronounced examples of the collapse of the theorem was the presentation of the Palestinian Israeli conflict solvable in a negotiated fashion.  The aforementioned Madrid conference of 1991 saw Israel and Palestinian representatives seated at the same table, and following secret direct Palestinian Israeli talks, the infamous Oslo accords.  No handshake between former avowed enemies  was going to break the radicalization of the conflict now that balanced super power restraint was absent, and the radicals abhorrent of the idea of rational progress and enamored with the idea of Islamic triumphalism saw their historic opening.  From the duplicitous Arafat’s own Intifada to Bin Laden’s orgiastic terror tidal wave to Hussein’s Iraqi Armageddon in the desert, the lack of world order mechanisms to suppress the worst was absent.  No comprehensive grand alliance or respect for UN resolutions, so much a tenet of the new world order, were available to the second George Bush to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003.  Rather, the cumulative world response to the horrors of 09/11 were empty rhetoric, allies who sought to undermine the U.S. , and a feeble and friable ‘coalition of the willing’.   The equally spectacular destruction of Hussien’s forces and eventual capture and eradication of Hussein and ultimately Bin Laden, has led to none of the hopes of the post-conflict new order theoreticians like Francis Fukuyama, Strobe Talbot, and Brent Skowcroft.

The world as it now exists is a far cry from the hopes and aspirations of the forward thinking leaders of post cold War 1991.  The United States in its role as the modern Rome is the Rome of 379 AD, and  President Obama the modern re-incarnation of Emperor Theodosius I.  Theodosis sought to put  Rome’s outlying responsibilities into the hands of forces who saw each abdication of responsibility as another indication of Rome’s terminal illness.  Internally directed by progressively weakened infrastructure, finances, and collapse of will for the burdens of global direction,  our Theodosis has put forth the oxymoronic concept of “leading from behind”  and the gaping hole that is left is being rapidly filled with the modern Visigoths, Islamic radicals.  The premature withdrawal of U.S. forces by Obama from Iraq, has left the hard won stability of 2007 in tatters, and the radicals again on the rise.  The carefully orchestrated leadership of the first President Bush to achieve a peaceful dissolution of the Warsaw Pact is in stark contrast to the epic fail of the Obama administration to shepard the Arab Spring, leading to the catastrophic handling of Libya epitomized by Benghazi, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the calamitous  destruction in Syria.   The over 50,000 casualties in Syria with no end in site is the pie’ce de resistance of the end of the dream of the new world order concept to solve the world’s disharmony.  A United States true to its need to lead from behind has no influence on the conflict.  Russia, living the fallacy of former capacities in backing the Assad regime, can only watch its death troughs.  The egos and pride of the regional powers of Turkey and Iran are progressively, personally and dangerously tied to the outcome, and Israel watches from its border as the calamity will inevitably involve them.

The result of twenty years of  ineffective diplomatic and collective will accompanying a United States in decline has lead to the vortex of global danger in the Syrian conflict, and 2013 may see the world unable to control its inevitable conclusions. Theodosis I proved to be the last Emperor of Rome as a unified confederation, and the world was hurled into a thousand years of turmoil and rejection of the concept of citizen and civilization.  The pull of history to revisit itself is strong, and the seeds for real chaos is out there.  Watch Syria in 2013. The world’s rational impulses may be put to ultimate test in the 5000 year home of the land of Sargon.

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The Fiscal Cliff – Hohum…

The leaders of this nation – a nation very probably until recently the greatest exemplar of what can be accomplished through self governance – are busy in Washington DC trying to solve the enormous quandary of how to avoid the “fiscal cliff”.  The quandary has been created by a nation fundamentally addicted to spending on itself, avoiding the bill, and seeking the least painful alternatives to keeping on doing what it is doing to itself.  We the People stand by in worried anticipation of what  is to come from the least economically perceptive President in history, a Senate that has not met its fundamental constitutional requirement of passing a budget in four years, and a legislative house that can not even get its own members to promote a possible solution.  And We the People elected them.

The Fiscal Cliff is an inevitable point of destiny for incoherent and incompetent leadership.  Presented as an endgame so terrible that a nation spending on average 1.2 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year, it was assumed the shock of rigid cuts and higher taxes for everyone would prod such leaders into finally facing up to their responsibilities.  The cliff automatically would drive tax rates back to their 2001 status and force the gluttonous spending to unfunded levels still twice any deficit spending in the country’s history, but hey, at least in direction of more sane budgeting.  In fact the CBO estimated the fiscal cliff would increase the nation’s federal revenues 19 percent while reducing the nation’s spending by 0.25%, resulting in a deficit reduction of 560 billion dollars, with luck under the stratospheric trillion dollar mark it has been functioning at for four years.  That doesn’t sound so bad until the estimation as to the effect on the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is figured in.  The removal of hundreds of billions from the private sector through taxes to reduce but not remove the deficit , while reining in government spending so ludicrously called “stimulus” spending, would reduce the nation’s GDP a whopping 4%. Say hello, recession.

Very likely, the elected leaders in Washington struggle to see the enormity of their profligate spending and cavalier tax policies on the rest of us.  It is understandably difficult when your healthcare follows different rules then the rest of us, you are guaranteed a pension unlike the rest of us, and you can position yourself for inflation-protected cost of living increases, at the expense of the rest of us.  Jazz Shaw of puts our predicament into easy conceptualization in what he calls U.S Budget for Dummies:

  • U.S. Tax Revenue   $  2,170,000,000,000
  • Federal Budget         $  3,820,000,000,000
  • New Debt                  $  1,650,000,000,000
  • National Debt         $ 14,271,000,000,000
  • Recent Budget Cuts      $ 38,500,000,000

Lets now remove 8 zeroes and pretend its a household budget:

  • Annual Family Income                                  $21, 700
  • Annual Money the family spent                  $38,200
  • New debt on the credit card                       $ 16,500
  • Outstanding balance on the credit card  $142,710
  • Recent household Budget cuts                            $38.50

As has been identified correctly before, the US government is unlike the family household in a very critical way.  It can print money and lend it back to itself to keep on going with the above economics for some time, where as the family household would likely be at a fiscal cliff of some sorts.

And so we approaching what will be the first of many fiscal cliffs.  After the President achieves the successful re-framing of the nation’s economic  ills as not the challenge of the national household but rather the failure of its most productive members to give sufficiently, taxes will become even more progressive, but not more productive in reducing our debt.  The brief holiday for leaders in throwing the rational budget of the United States overboard will soon be overshadowed by the looming generational cliff of unfunded future spending.  Somewhere in the first quarter of 2013 the government will come up against the  movable line in the sand known as the debt ceiling, having exceeded trillions of dollars of wiggle room in only a year and a half.  We the People can obviously absorb bad economic policy, but can a country in which half its participants look to the government for their daily milk, do without milk if the government is forced to shut down?  Not likely.

Let’s just hope the nation is girded for what is to come.

In the mean time, pass the milk and cookies.


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A Final Christmas Beauty

As Christmas 2012 draws to a close, the Lord has granted us the vision of a white Christmas, the magic of a clear, starlit night, and the crisp cold of a true winter’s evening.  The night calls out for a clarion of eternal beauty, a little gift of perfection to mark this Christmas.  One is found in the oldest North American Christmas carol known to still be performed today.  The Huron Carol  or Jesus Ahatonhia was written in 1643 in the region now ascribed to Canada by Jean De Brebeuf, a Jesuit Missionary then living with one of the native aborginal peoples of the Canada of the 17th century, the Huron tribe.

A celebration of Christ’s birth, it rings in the beautiful clarity of three languages -Huron, French, and English – to bring a special sanctity to the miracle of the Christ child. As this beautiful night closes, a special prayer for health good tidings and best wishes to all my family, friends, and fellow ramparteers through the words and music of Jean Brebeuf.  Merry Christmas.

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The Lyrical Heart of Christmas

An eternal sign of the base value of the Christmas tome, the birth of Jesus, and the feelings it emotes, are the varied and universal efforts to reflect it in song and lyric through the ages.  From the direct expressions of the Christian hymnal such as Away, in the Manger to more obtuse, secular expressions, like White Christmas, the expressions of the zen of the moment, the family collected, the sense of peace and contentment, the rejection of conflict and the superficial, and the miracle of the Message, ring true through the centuries.  The uniqueness of Christianity through its story of origin, a moment of supreme peace and love, communicates a universal truth through all cultures.  No matter what our beliefs, we resonate with the feelings expressed by the one holiday celebrating ultimate goodness we are capable of as human.

The Great American Songbook has so many beautiful expressions of the intertwined beauty and sanctity of Christmas. As noted above, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas reflected his need to express an ideal hallmark image of Christmas through snow on treetops and sleigh bells – completely foreign to a Jewish songwriter living in Beverly Hills, California. Yet, an instantaneous solemnity pours over the listener when the simple cardboard images are linked to the perfect musical overlay.  Hugh Martin’s edgy classic, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, speaks to the need to find release from the pressures and chaos of a modern society to drive separation in the family, to try and capture the innocence and relief of the Christmas moment. ” Let your heart be light/ from now on/ our troubles will be out of sight” and “Faithful friends who are dear to us/ gather near to us, once more” suggest the obstacles we face are not permanent if we hold to our core strengths.  Hugh Regney’s 1962 beautiful tome, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” directly appeals to the Gospel’s good news of the birth as it resonates from the night wind to the lamb to the shepard boy and finally king, the good news universally understood by all, regardless of their position in creation, or in life.  Edward Pola in his 1963 hit for Andy Williams returned to the concept of gathering in “Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”  where “there’ll be much mistletoeing and heart’s will be glowing when loved one’s are near.”

All these wonderful songs, both classic and contemporary, bring to mind the innate need to return and celebrate the simple goodness of the Christmas story with loved ones.  Through the many years, I have cherished the event of Christmas, in the years where I have succeeded on getting home and those like this one where I have not, the songs and their crafted lyrics continue to bring meaning and good feeling.  The homecoming expressed by the nameless military family in the picture above, was precisely what Kim Gannon had in mind when he wrote his 1943 classic “I’ll be Home for Christmas” . The song was an instant success for Bing Crosby and has received many beautiful treatments over the years, but I like the stripped down version performed by  modern Canadian pop singer, Michael Buble’, who gets the yearning and the want just right.  To each of you who can be home, for those of us who can’t, and to the thousands of service men and women who are separated from their families by conflict and obligation and selflessly represent us all – a very heartfelt Christmas wish from Kim Gannon, Michael Buble’ – and myself.

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The historian in me couldn’t resist seeing the most recent cinematic effort to portray history, what I hoped to be a  compelling presentation of one of my historical heroes, Abraham Lincoln.  Historical dramas are the stuff of Hollywood.  History offers spectacle and tension that epic moments are rife with, but, to the challenge of the screenwriter, the outcome is known to the audience.  The tendency of the writer therefore is to bend history by inserting plot devices, conversations that never occurred, people that didn’t exist, to heighten the peril faced by the protagonists.  History frequently takes a beating in a drama well told for effect.

Steven Spielberg faced just such a challenge in his current movie, Lincoln .  The sweep and scale of the Civil War and Lincoln’s pivotal role in it has received more scholarly attention than perhaps any time in American history, and the role of  President Lincoln has reached mythical status.  The many faces of mythic Lincoln , Lincoln the Western Logsplitter, Lincoln the Emancipator, Lincoln the War Leader, and Lincoln the Shakespearean Martyr, play to our current image of this enigmatic historical figure.  Spielberg was determined to humanize the Olympic stature of Lincoln, and decided to focus therefore on the interactions of Lincoln the man in a very small sliver of the Civil War saga, the role of the President in achieving the passage of the bill promoting a 13th amendment to the U.S Constitution, abolishing slavery and enforced servitude.

The movie therefore attempts to show us Lincoln , the human, at a moment requiring masterful political abilities.  Necessarily, the typical background for animated a historical drama, dramatic action scenes, are riskily absent from this movie.  The movie instead maintains a laser focus on the artillery like bombardment that Lincoln faced every day of his Presidency in the form of an overwhelming  plethora of pressures.  The scope of crushing forces attempting to suffocate his will are told to brutal effect.  The President faces as a result of his actions to attempt to preserve the union a daily butcher’s bill of hundreds if not thousands of casualties that touch those immediately around him, in a war seemingly without end..  As if the God wanted to assure the personal understanding of such loss, He takes Lincoln’s little boy Will to fatal illness, plunging his already unstable wife Mary into a spiral of depression, self absorption, and irrational acts.  He faces a majority in legislature that wants to destroy the South for its irretrievable sins of slavery and secession, making the elements of a potential re-union all but insurmountable, and a minority Democrat party that was never willing to make the elimination of slavery a priority of peace.  He faces war profiteers, two faced cabinet men, deserters, and a thousand years of racial prejudice in daily battle.

All of these forces lead to the Lincoln we see in the image above –  weary, aged, and introspective.  The daily deluge seems impossible to tolerate, yet this man faces them with a grim determination that is absent from today’s politician, with an innate belief in the founding principles of the nation and an unalterable conviction in the role of Divine Providence.  It takes a great actor to portray the human condition as it exists in a character, and Daniel Day Lewis achieves this in one of the great performances of our generation.  Frankly, Lewis saves the movie from itself, as the scenes project a certain redundancy in Lincoln’s daily stresses and challenges, and script’s need to put constantly profound statements in the President’s mouth to propel the story forward.  Perhaps for the first time, we see Lincoln the man, struggling with himself and his family, as he faces the need to finish the job he played a pivotal role in starting.  This is no cartoon hero Lincoln.  This is a man who seeks an end that will in some way provide some justice to the horrific, incalculable losses.  Daniel Day Lewis brings this very special man to life in a unforgettable way.

As history, unfortunately, the movie takes some huge assumptions that cheapen the learning lessons of the film.  Focusing on the politics of the Amendment abolishing slavery, the movie gives only thready information as to how men and woman at that time could hold such divergent views as to humanity.  Rather than careful interpretations as to the intensity of people’s convictions at the time, we see men throwing bedrock philosophies overboard for a few dollars or a patronage position. African Americans on the President’s house staff in the movie are projected as fully politically aware and engaged, yet Frederick Douglas, a huge intellectual force effecting Lincoln’s way of thinking is essentially no where to be found.   Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful abolitionist in the House, is given the key role in achieving the desired end of the bill, though there is no historical narrative that suggests that was the case.  The South projects in the movie essentially only as a little seen foreign force, and the peace delegation injected in the movie comes off as cartoonish and delusional.

As educational and formative entertainment, it doesn’t seem to me the movie quite works as successfully as Spielberg’s other historical drama, Saving Private Ryan. The special performance of Daniel Day Lewis, however,  in making the epic Lincoln  someone we could recognize and understand as a human being, is enough to make the effort to see the movie through a worthy one.  So little of our nation’s formative narrative is placed in front of our population nowadays that even a flawed attempt by Spielberg is a valued one.  Maybe this we lead to some better efforts to combat the nation’s ignorance on how we got here, and where we are going.

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Honey Smooth

The Tommy Dorsey Band was one of the epic forces in American popular music in the 1940’s setting a standard for sophisticated big band sound. Lush arrangements were highlighted by band singers that would accentuate the interaction between voice and instrument creating an American Sound that would dominate the era. Most famous of the singers propelling out of the Dorsey ensemble was the thin Italian kid from Hoboken, Frank Sinatra. His big talent soon proved too much for the multi-voice ensemble known as the Pied Pipers that provided the harmonies for the band, and he struck out on his own to eventual legendary solo status. The Pied Pipers however had another gem in the harmonic mix, and though not as well known as her male counterpart Sinatra, Jo Stafford had a terrific way with song lyrics and a voice that was effortless and perfect in pitch. The girls all wanted to meet Frank Sinatra, but the boys all wanted to marry beautiful Jo Stafford. Her voice was characterized by Johnny Mercer, the great songwriter, as honey smooth, and it was all that and more.

Jo Stafford grew up in California at a time when the state was truly the paradise of possibility.  A voice as sunny warm as the climate, she soon was recognized as the lead voice by her sisters that had formed one of the many family ensembles popular in the era. Jo liked the way her voice blend as a mid register clarity and soon became part of the Pied Pipers, initially a eight member group creating an orchestral sound.  Paul Weston, a member and arranger for Tommy Dorsey, heard the Pipers and offered to arrange for them, bring them into the sight line of the premier band leader of the day, Tommy Dorsey.  Dorsey struggled with the concept of such a big ensemble, finally convincing them to reduce to four voices with Stafford in the lead, and a new projection of the band was born.  Sinatra was the hired singer, and the Pied Pipers were accompaniment, but when Sinatra left, the talents of Stafford started to project, and she became a recognizable star in her own right.  In the video below, Stafford’s voice seamlessly blends with her male counterparts, but the honey smooth delivery sparkles like sun on morning dew:

As World War II drew to a close, Jo Stafford left the Pied Pipers and became a noted solo artist.  Understated and a balladeer, she was moderately successful economically but to the artists and song writers in the business, she was considered royalty. Extremely popular with the millions of soldiers created by the WWII cauldron for her tireless work in troop support, she held a special place in the hearts of servicemen and had a permanent place on their record players and her popularity grew and grew.  Both she and Sinatra became recording artists for Capitol records, where she had success, but when her now husband Weston moved her to Columbia Records she flourished in the 1950’s, becoming the first Columbia artist to sell 25 million records, epitomized by her 1957 number one hit, You Belong to Me:

Now a big star, Stafford had the universal recognition that led to both movie and TV opportunities, including her own TV show.  At the height of her popularity in the early sixties, she determined to retire and raise her family, and despite pressures by many in the industry, essentially kept her word.  Perhaps she saw the trends that music was taking away from melodious sound into the more jarring energy of the sixties.  The extended retirement is probably one of the reasons Stafford’s beautiful voice is time trapped in our memories as a big band singer, but she could evoke deep emotion and understood lyrics in the manner of the best interpreters of the American Songbook.  Jo Stafford died in 2008, as a snapshot of a time, but Johnny Mercer’s summation of Stafford’s talent as honey smooth remains definitive.  We finish with a period piece of music, the 19th century Shenandoah, made epically timeless by Jo Stafford’s beautiful way with great music.

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Theater of the Absurd

Welcome to the Theater of the Absurd that has become the narrative of crumbling western institutions.  Like the audience of Waiting for Godot, those of us who are observers in the audience don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or simply maintain a dumbfounded muteness at the inactions and confusions on the stage.   In Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon vainly wait for an acquaintance named Godot to arrive, blithely unaware as to whether they would even recognize him if he were to appear.   So go the stumbling, bumbling leaders in charge of running the western assemblies who presumptively stand vanguard over two thousand five hundred years of western civilization’s most shining achievement, the elevation of each individual to a creature of value.  We individuals, having bought the tickets for this absurdest drama, are frozen in the audience, the theater doors bared to any conceivable escape.  We can only look back and wonder why we thought buying the tickets was such a good idea in the first place.

In our pitiful play, Greece is our Vladimir and the United States our Estragon. Greece, the citadel of western civilization, as a free willed country, is now at a point past death.  Having involuted its entire economy into a vehicle for self digestion, the bill for the lavish feast is long past due.  The puppets that are the face of the Greek assemblies agonize over the steadily increasing vise the international community, and in particular, the European Union, place on their ability to ingest themselves.  And everybody is upset at the forlorn Greek taxpayer, a steadily diminishing segment of society that has realized that paying taxes is over rated, when the taxes simply go to those who demand more taxes from those foolish enough to pay.   The fact that enormous financial burdens of the state have overwhelmed its ability to obtain receipts to pay for it all is looked upon hilariously as a specific character flaw of the Greeks.

The current supportive plan of the European Union is a ponzi scheme that should lead to our old friend Charles Ponzi to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics posthumously.  The Greek government forces the selling of short term bonds meant to pay their explosive debts, to insolvent Greek banks that long ago had their available capital washed away in debt restructuring, who in turn are held up by loans from the European Union countries, particularly Germany, at interest rates that everybody knows the Greeks will never be able to pay back.  This, of course will lead to the wonderful absurdest moment in Act II, where the German Chancellor Merkel will get to explain to the German people in her bid for re-election, how investing Germany’s hard earned capital sustained through taxes on the German taxpayer, needs to be invested in an enterprise with no hope of return on investment from the incapable Greek taxpayer, and that this scheme needs to go on indefinitely.  I suspect that will certainly produce some nervous guffaws from the audience.  Luckily, a potential villain has surfaced.  It turns out that the only surviving economy in Greece is the large group of small business owners, the individual mom and pop shops that make up 30% of business in Greece, far exceeding the percentage in any more civilized western socialist democracy.  It turns out these little businesses have learned to survive by under-reporting their meager receipts, in order to avoid the oppressive taxes that would destroy their businesses.  To European Unionocrats, this is an intolerable situation, that demands the coalescing of these businesses into a more manageable and cooperative bureaucracy.  Thus furthering the destruction of individual incentive and enterprise.  Who would have guessed?

Ah, but wait. The play, seemingly wandering about without answers, holds for us even more surrealist directions. We are beginning to hear from Estragon, in the form of the United States.  Here is where the play will abound in absurdities.   The recent election has confirmed the public’s confidence in the economic musings of a former Hawaiian prep school pothead, positioned to lead the once great American economic miracle into the rocks.  Facing the “fiscal cliff” of enforced tax raises and dramatic directionless spending cuts guaranteed to throw the country back into recession, the former Cannabis connoisseur has determined the way to deal with the crisis is- no really- “stimulus” spending.  You see, how this works is, the government overspends thereby needing more tax receipts thereby raising taxes thereby reducing economic performance thereby reducing receipts thereby needing economic stimulus through more spending.  Estragon would be proud of such logic as he took off his bowler and stared inquisitively into it, seeing nothing.  The legislative bodies sit by and wonder if cannabidiol has made logic invisible to the man who woke up one day and discovered himself Leader of the Free World.  Certainly it can’t it can’t get more absurd than that.

The end game for a play which has no end is the lonely waiting for someone who will never come, a sustained and constructive policy to get the West out of this mess. The United States will unfortunately ignore its ridiculously prevalent bounties of personal incentive, creativity, innate  thriftiness, and natural resources, and instead propel forward to economic decline, spiraling debt, and progressive paralysis.  Europe will tumble into Act III, where suicide is contemplated but the characters of the play lack the energy and incentive to follow through.

Western Civilization, whose two thousand five hundred year brilliant journey is now in the hands of such characters, is best eulogized by Samuel Beckett’s most memorable line in the play regarding the frailty and brevity of such existence:

They give birth astride a grave,  the light gleams an instant, then it is night once more.


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A Knight Templar of Classical Music

        The victorious First Crusade established the capacity for believers to pilgrimage to the holiest sites in Christendom to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and identify with His life on earth.  Biblical references were brought to stunning reality for the pilgrim in Jerusalem.  The immense injection of vitality that this would provide to the church was obvious to Pope Innocent II, but the world of the twelfth century was a very dangerous place for a believer on pilgrimage.  The road to Jerusalem was treacherous, filled with bandits, murderers, and many countries with little incentive to protect the pilgrim on his travels.  A special group of evangelists were created out of the First Crusade whose calling was to be as defenders of the faith and those that sought the pilgrimage.  Housed in the Temple of the Mount in Jerusalem, the monastic group of knights  known as the Knights Templar proved to be Innocent’s vehicle for defense of the rights of pilgrims. He made sure they received unique abilities to transcend national borders and take a leading militaristic role in defending the base elements of the faith and the faithful.

At the turn of the twentieth century, classical music was in need of just such a knights templar to defend itself against the inroads of radical transitions and intellectual demolishing of the elements of technique and romantic passion that had been responsible in achievement of its height as a primary cultural force.  The group of passionate technicians that would save the concept of classic in classical music – the knights templar of musical performance that saved the human element of classical music – turned out to be a group of Russian Jews. Linked to the unique struggle for basic human rights in a Russia first under attack by authoritarian anti-Semitic czars, and later by atheistic Communist totalitarians, a stunning group of Jewish musical knights  sprung forth from the vast Russian countryside from the years surrounding the birth of the 20th century.  They managed through their brilliance to secure classicism in music and grudging respect for their people under enormous pressure for the destruction of each by forces that saw both classicism and Judaism as characteristics of a failed cultural model.  The names Heifetz, Horowitz, and Rubinstein ring through the ages, but an equally talented and perhaps more monastically pure performer, Nathan Milstein, was as vital to the defense of classicism as any of his more famous fellow knights. Unlike the the aforementioned trio, however, Milstein was not a self promoter, and tended to let his music performance  speak for itself.

And how it spoke.  Milstein was a performer who saw the music as the spoken verse of the poet.  The clarity of the language was critical to him.  He devoted his performing to find ways to articulate the most difficult of passages with the precision he saw demanded by the composer.  His technique was not the bounding passionate noise of explosive pyrotechnics of Horowitz.  He wished to strive instead for the perfection of celestial music with superhuman clarity.  Like the great Russian performers of the century’s turn, Milstein was identified by his prodigy status and brought to the great teacher of the Russian Conservatory, Leopold Auer.  Milstein was not a revolutionary; he was truly a defender of the catechism, and took to Auer’s severely demanding style of instruction requiring surgical precision and humanistic passion in performance as indelibly intertwined forces, not conflicting truths.  Milstein learned from Auer that difficult passages required not only physical gifts, but mathematical and geometric ones, and Milstein would ceaselessly work and re-work fingering techniques and strategies until he had achieved the most logical and efficient means of articulating the passage with precision.  It was a philosophy that made Milstein a master of the classicists such as Beethoven and Bach, while bringing a humanity to the carnival aspects of Paganini.  He proved you could marry both with clarity, and made it possible for Milstein to present reproducible interpretations that didn’t depend on his mood that day, or the romantic idealism so true of his good friend and fellow “child of the revolution”,  Horowitz.

Nathan Milstein did what all of the Jewish Knights Templar did during the cataclysmic years of the twentieth century.  He immigrated to America permanently in the 1930’s where he spent the rest of his performing life basking in the freedom and protection that America’s unique take on individualism allowed for.  America became the Temple of the Mount to the defenders of human expression and personal freedom, and there, any undertones of anti-Semitism proved feeble against the power of talent and free expression.  One wonders in an America that has forgotten its mission, what country will be the welcoming temple that brings the pilgrims of human excellence and free expression to her shores, and preserves for at least one more century the calling of civilizational greatness.

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People We Should Know #22 – Xi Jinping

       With the recent election, the relatively brief period of assumed responsibility of the United States of America as the world’s hyperpower has been firmly shorn by the voting public.  Confirming a “lead from behind” strategy of global diplomatic consolidation with other fading powers, the U.S. will becoming progressively reactive to the burgeoning influence of the world’s new dominant economic force, China, and the time is therefore apropo to look closely at China and its conceptualizations about leadership.  Unlike America, which has leaned progressively on societal security with the alignment of its resources toward that goal, China has been single minded on the conversion of its national energy to growth and prosperity.   The United States will spend the next ten years looking inward as the financial wherewithal for investing in expansion will be limited by the constraints of an ever burgeoning debt owed to others. China’s challenge will be making the shift from the world’s secondary to primary influence in a peaceful fashion respected by its neighbors and competitors, and secure the equality of prosperity at home. This coming week will see the elevation of Xi Jinping to the Presidency of China, succeeding Hu Jintao.  This culmination of career through the difficult and secretive politics of the Chinese Communist Party to the position of ultimate leadership in China, makes Xi Jinping a worthy addition to Ramparts – People We Should Know.

The Chinese Communist Party for the past 30 years since the death of Mao Zedong and the elevation of Deng Xiaoping has been all about preservation of the party while unleashing of economic potential.  This has resulted in leaders with a certain pedigree and Xi Jinping fits the mold precisely.  Xi has the critical family pedigree.  His father was one of the mythical leaders of the initial Communist victory over Nationalist forces, and then just as crucially, was discarded by Mao for his “reactionary” flaws in the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, for the crime of suggesting small market reforms in the face of the horrific forced starvation of millions of  Chinese by Mao’s catastrophic edicts to preserve his version of the revolution.  Xi therefore started his life in the dangerous world of being a member of an enemy family to the Revolutionary Guard, and his survival was at times a matter of luck.   With the progressive weakening by Mao by aged infirmity and collapse of the Chinese economy, small windows of opportunity were seized by rejected “reformers” and Xi began to be cultivated like a potentially star athlete for eventual leadership.  Xi was educated at China’s most prestigious university in the hard science of chemical engineering, then sent through a series of developmental resume building projects, including a stint in military organization and period of overseas exposure in agricultural management, spending time with a family in Muscatine, Iowa.  He returned to begin the climb through a series of provincial Party positions, becoming governor in the vital eastern provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, where China’s economic miracle was exploding and the critical questions of the relationship of Communist Party dominance and free market activities were under continual fulmination.

In 2007, Xi was elevated to China’s ultimate administrative leadership structure, the nine person Politburo, as First Secretary, a direct line to the ultimate leadership position.  From this position he ran the highly successful Beijing 2008 Olympics, China’s coming out party, and crafted a reputation for having an open ear to reforming China’s inevitable inbred corruption problem , fused to the monolithic party structure.  Critically, it appears he became the favorite of China’s kingmaker, former President Jiang Zemin, while not alienating the current leader, Hu Jintao, an impressive high wire performance.

This week, Xi will assume the Presidency of China, at the zenith of China’s thirty year history of progressive ascendancy.  Although Chinese leadership selection process is cloaked in byzantine processes, murky vetting, and unknown strains, Xi is reported to be a modern conceptualizer.  He is comfortable on the world stage, personally open and confident, and seemingly concerned with addressing Chinese internal issues before they become structural dangers to the leadership.  In a crucial window into the thought process that lead to the elevation of Xi, the exiting President Hu Jintao provided a valuable clue as to the internal problems, declaring the Party’s incestuous corruption is the single greatest risk to the survival of the Chinese Party’s continuing survival and China’s ability to navigate its ascendancy to the primary economic force in the world.

Make no mistake, Zi Jinping is carved of the same stone as each of his preceding Presidents.  He is a stalwart of the Chinese Communist Party and will cotton to no weakness in Party dominance in Chinese society.  Unlike the American President, he will be laser focused on Chinese national self interest as the one and only determinant in policy, and though he may show a welcoming personality, the concept of American politicians that it is important for America to be liked in the world in order to be respected, is completely foreign to him and all Chinese leaders.  China will continue to make its decisions on relations, economy, trade, environment, energy, Taiwan, and ultimately military security questions based on what is best for China.

As the Chinese and American destiny ships cross in the night, you can be sure that Xi Jinping will quietly but confidently ask the American ship to yield right of way.

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       It’s hard to admit when you put a lot of time, investment in emotion, and thought into trying to understand  a complex relationship, that it turns out you had it all wrong.  You wake up one day and the relationship is broken, and you are dumbfounded.  It turns out the deep abiding  relationship the American people have with their history, their constitution, and their form of government, a bond fired and forged through birth, strife, wars, and depression, was fractured, and the papers of formal separation were given on November 6th, 2012. The original bond was formed on the foundation that the people would be the steward of the relationship, the careful watchmen of the government designed to serve them.  The election shows unfortunately that the bond had grown stale and tired, and the people declared they no longer want to shoulder the responsibility in this relationship.  The responsibility has proved too onerous, and they just want out.

And so we wake up to the reality that what we thought was permanent is gone, what seemed to be involuble, was swept out easily with the high tide’s current.  What do we do with the aftermath? How do we understand it?  For the first time the retort, we’ll get them next time, no longer seems applicable or appropriate.

Thoughtful people as we are, the first step perhaps  is to do some introspection, a cold shower of some facts and realities to begin to the process of personal healing and recovery.  The deep considerations in the aftermath of a great storm take years to sort out, but we can begin tentatively and somewhat randomly by looking at what happened, what was lost, and what might be still standing.

Images versus Issues

A few days before the election an apparent Romney momentum was staunched by a horrific storm Sandy that bludgeoned the east coast of the country.  The President hustled into a series of meetings with victims of the storm, projecting an image of concern and attention.  He stood beside the vitriolic governor of New Jersey, who had spent the greater part of two years calling the very structures the president epitomized,  centralized top down apparatuses, one disparaging name after another.  This time, the governor lionized the President as the vital link to salvation, the great bipartisan in moments of crisis, the critical component to moving forward.  The multiple images were striking. The image of a believer abandoning his beliefs when trouble strikes, and clinging to his alter-ego the President when he has real need and is desperate, is going to be an image that will haunt Christie, but hugely benefited the President.  It cemented the image that this was a man who cares, and when it really matters, is relied upon even by those who would disparage him in easier times, when there is no crisis or calamity.  The electoral exit poles were unanimous on this point; the image of sincere caring for the concerns of the average man or woman, outweighs any constructive review of the specific issues that would suggest the contrary.  Issues proved to be arcane in their importance.  Understanding for instance how a modern economy works, the concept of an unfunded mandate, the nuances of shale oil exploration, the imploding tax structure, the complex constitutional questions of healthcare delivery created no emotional ownership in the great mass of voters.  On the issues of economy, debt, obamacare, right way or wrong way direction, the voter overlooked their concern that the actions of this President were detrimental to their future – and voted for the image.  Who can I trust to look after me and make sure my needs are secure?  The modern candidate that dominates this image of trust transcends all political philosophies – and President Obama proved it in spades.

The Great Detached Electorate

A stunning set of numbers has come out of the 2012 election.  11 million less voters voted in 2012 then did in 2008, and Mitt Romney received 2 million less votes then John McCain in 2008.  Andrew McCarthy has a brilliant review of this phenomena in NRO, reveling that the President won by simply and efficiently getting out the Democratic vote that would normally vote to support their candidate, while losing a spectacular 13% of the voters he accumulated in 2008.  This implies 9 million voters determined rather to stay home, disappointed in the direction of the country and its leadership, rather than take a chance and vote for the alternative.  In an election that saw 2 million fewer voters than 2004, though the country grew  in population by 16 million, the opting out of the voter was of staggering proportions.  How does one explain such dis-interest?  It appears the progressively driving force is the sense detachment that a growing part of Americans feel regarding their system of government.  To them, it appears not to matter who is in charge, Republican or Democrat, that the outcome of larger government, insoluble problems, and addictive bureaucracy will be the same.  Why come out and vote, when the outcome is already assured?  A democracy crumbles on such feelings, and the ominous effect is being projected in democratic elections worldwide.

Hispanic Revolt

Since the Republican Party lost permanently the African American voting bloc after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Great Society, an enormous amount of hand ringing and effort to understand and restore some balance to this bloc’s voting habits is undertaken every four years.  The effort is fruitless because African Americans have become a statist monobloc and will vote 90% or greater for the Democrat statist nominee whatever the set of issues are on the table.   The diverse group of Americans collectively labeled “hispanic” has been to this point notably different.  The concerns of the Texican border voter have been significantly different from the exiled Cuban American in Miami, the Puerto Rican immigrant in New York, and the five generation American chicano in Palo Alto.  No more. A democrat wave was seen in the hispanic vote that crossed all cultural differences. It seems the frustration with Americans being unable to equitably solve the plight of millions of hispanic immigrants who have circumvented the archaic immigration system was magnified by candidate Romney’s “extreme” position, however objectively appropriate,  that the starting point to solution had to be an obeyance of law and a return to their native country of those that were breaking immigration law, and punishment of those who would illegally hire them.  The hispanic bloc is now the second largest group of identified voters and the inability for a country, whose message has been to immigrants to come and contribute, to continue to ignore this issue was disastrous to the more rigid candidate.  Interestingly, candidate Obama was exposed by the reporters of Telemundo of having ignored his promise of prioritizing this issue as President, but the “caring” image discussed above overwhelmed the President’s wimpish performance on the issue.  The diversified hispanic voter capable of objective issue voting is progressing toward a image vote identification previously associated with African Americans and this is an inescapable problem for any future non-statist candidate.

War Fatigue

The American electorate proved profoundly skittish to candidate Romney’s call for a more robust military and more forceful foreign policy position for America.  The logic of “peace through strength” rather than “peace through neglect” espoused by the President on his lead from behind strategy struck Americans as war-like.  An over decade long obsession with foreign conflict has left the electorate adverse to any potential actions involving American troops.  A fundamental mistake has been made by President Bush, candidate McCain and now candidate Romney, that Americans, once involved in conflict, understand the import of achieving identifiable objectives or discernible victory.  It can not be underestimated how popular President Obama’s policy of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of circumstances and potential risks has been.  The reality that America was in sight of a considerable strategic victory in Iraq requiring ongoing military presence was seen as a price not worth paying, and the same has proved to be true in Afghanistan.  Americans are weary of being the righteous policemen for the world and look to handle these issues with a Jacque Chirac type realpolitic view with multiple nations behind the scenes.  President Obama has cleverly captured this image, while still participating in far flung escapades such as the debacle in Libya and the ongoing”kill lists” for identified “enemies” of the United States.  The public sees this as the necessary evil involved with world governance, and as long as ground troops are not involved, likely to continue to avert their eyes.

The Death of Convictions

A dramatic shift in Americans perception of themselves has been the death of convictions transcending immediate politics.  Documents of conviction used to be the guiding principles for most people’s lives.  The Bible and religious conviction  were at one time sacrosanct.  Previously, a believing Catholic would see themselves a practicing Catholic under a Democrat or Republican Administration.  The idea that a basic principle of religious conviction, the church’s right to espouse principles to right to life and the freedom to live these principles at their own institutions seemed to be an inviolate consideration.  The Obama administration proved this to be a Potemkin Village, trashing Catholic teachings and bishop leaders on the fundamental issue of forced payment for abortion and contraception by Catholic institutions, while managing to gain the majority of Catholic votes.  Professed lifelong Catholics like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden pledged their ongoing fidelity to their church while participating in the very destruction of the basic tenets of the church dogma.  It indicated that like the argument regarding the fundamental value of imagery, the imagery of seeing oneself as catholic was sufficient to overwhelming the hypocrisy of not practicing any of its tenets.

At the secular level, the eternal stability provided by the base convictions stated by the country’s Constitution is meeting the same crisis of hypocrisy.  The checks and balances so carefully positioned in the constitution are fraying in the face of an executive branch perfectly happy to rule by executive order and ignore legislative process. the constitutional conviction is progressively undermined by a liberal judicial system that seeks at every opportunity to block legislative acts not for their objective legality under constitutional principles, but in the court’s desire to “right” what they see as a legislative “wrong”, regardless of the voice of the people. We see ominous examples of this in Wisconsin district judges ruling on non-constitutional questions such as collective bargaining and voter identification legally passed by a dually elected legislature and signed by the executive branch governor, because they see themselves as providing ultimate veto power to determine “fairness”.  We note the progressive ignorance of the voting population of the various elements of the constitution that protect individual rights and freedoms, and the progressive declaration of the codified convictions expressed in the document as “archaic” and requiring evolution.  The death of conviction as a source of strength through bad times and good times is the single most dangerous trend in the future survival of the uniquely American experiment with individual freedom.

The Comfort with Decline

Sometimes the responsibility of always being the example for others to emulate proves to be too much to bear.Great societies inevitably decline because of the loss of the vital energy required to support and preserve the elements of its greatness.  The Roman empire, a thousand year permanency declined in a few short decades to vastly inferior forces.  The energy needed to maintain defenses, clean out corruption and ennui in its leaders, recognize the individual’s role in preserving the culture, and the simple strain of maintaining maturity and flexibility as a society proved too great a burden.   There is no reason to suspect the American experience won’t be the same.  Being the ultimate superpower, wielding great influence with others, and defending the “exceptionalism” of this unique society is proving to be a progressively abhorred burden.

Europe dealt with this by blurring the individual cultural uniqueness of each of its cultures and suppressing their aggressive tendencies to any form of national pride, by injecting the blandness of the European Union with its strangulating bureaucracy on the previously diverse relationships of Europeans to their history, individual expression and government.   I don’t think it is a significant leap to see in the near future  an American leader suggest a North American Federation that eliminates the “exceptionalism” of the American Constitution , thereby binding the North American continent in the ultimate free trade zone of completely open borders, one currency, and fidelity to an innocuous state that provides individual security, a massive expansion in the tax base, and a huge expansion of the government to resources that will feed its every expanding need to grow.  If you don’t think Americans could possibly vote to disband their hard won uniqueness for the greater security of an expanded governmental culture, you need only ask the voters charged with voting on Tuesday and quiz them on the relationship of the Constitution to the actions they just undertook.  Most would be hard pressed to identify any elements of the Constitution in a discernible way and frankly would not be the least bit embarrassed by their ignorance.  We are close to the time when the individual citizen will assume the government’s chief responsibility is  the indivual’s security and the means of supporting that security the job of an unnamed someone else.

Final Tally

Ramparts predicted incorrectly the final tally of these election but  not its importance.  Fundamental changes are present, not in the officials elected, but in the electorate that elected them. Depressing as the thought is, I don’t think this time we will absorb these changes and ultimately triumph.  The progression in debt is inexorable and the willingness to perform the hard tasks of reducing debt are nowhere in sight.  The attitude of leading from behind and isolating from conflict has historically always led to greater conflict, and I suspect the acceptance of this laissez-faire attitude is going to get a lot of people killed.  The strangulating of access to the means of production, whether by energy decisions, regulation, or suppression of innovation will suffocate this country’s power to recover.  I would like to be more optimistic, but I don’t see the silver lining visibly apparent.  It looks like we are locked in a loveless marriage of convenience and divorce is not an option.  As the President so aptly put previously, there isn’t going to be much place in the new society for the “bitter clingers” – the champions of what we once espoused to be.

Is there a possible path forward? History would say generally no; societies have and inexorable birth, life, and death cycle.  America has been somewhat unusual in this regard, however. We have a personal stubbornness that seems at times irritating to others.  We have still an exceptional number of people who believe in a God and His Providence.  There are untold numbers of people that like to re-live the mythical moments, dressing up as revolutionary soldiers or civil war soldiers and eating hardtack, re-enacting the signing of the Declaration of Independence , or memorizing and reciting the Gettysburg Address. Legions of hunters see their guns as their certificate of freedom, and will fight any effort of the government to “clarify” the Second Amendment.  We have Freedom Flights, and battleground living tours, Flag days and Fife corps.  We have families who lose their son to the government’s incredible ineptitude in Benghazi, only to have the brother of the deceased respond to such ineptitude by joining to serve in the very governmental force  whose leadership determined his brother expendable, so strong is the virus of patriotism.  And we have bloggers, like me, that for no apparent reason, find the need to spend countless hours expressing  their love for the amazing story of western society and twenty five  century journey of  individual expression and achievement, read by a small group of readers who feel the same. To the modern statist, these activities and need for expression are beyond conceptualization.  Perhaps the way forward is encouraging the tending  of these modes of expression, into an eventual constructive clarifying light, when the weight of our current society’s need superficial and momentary security crashes down on the rocks of reality.  It just might take a really hard lesson for society to realize what all those supposedly arcane convictions were all about. In the Middle Ages, the darkness was eventually extinguished by those who preserved the great ideas and kept their conviction, when all about them swirled chaos and destruction.  The clarity of human freedom is a light hard to extinguish.



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